Friday, August 15, 9 p.m.
In this, Sugarcane’s opening night, the Sushisamba bartenders are beyond bustling—they’re downright flustered. Though they’ve had a month to softly open inside the Shoppes at the Palazzo, tonight is, well, kind of a big deal. While “everyone who’s anyone” has been trickling in for weeks to sample the cornmeal crusted calamari and the El Topo roll, tonight is something more like diving in at the deep end: a cabal of nightlife personalities … and a whole lot of alcohol.
Not halfway through dinner, we’ve decided that dining at Sushisamba is like setting sail on Willy Wonka’s famous psychedelic boat trip. “There’s no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going,” we intone as the seven Omakase tasting courses come faster and faster. All around our booth, the wood and fiberglass ribbons that weave throughout the space seem to come alive from their fixed places. On the walls there are red, orange and yellow Miyazaki-style anime images and exuberant Asian graffiti. “So this is high-energy dining!” I bounce in the seat as scrims and screens throughout the room show everything from modern and classic Geisha films to South American Carnaval footage to the latest Olympics coverage.
Sushisamba is a mélange of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian notions, and this infuses everything from the drinks to the surroundings to the bathrooms Sushisamba shares with the tiny club it harbors in the back. It’s not till close to midnight that I can get back there to check them out, though; I’m still star-watching from my central lookout post. When I finally do take a stroll, I get to peek into the kitchen on the way and drool over the sake and wine coolers I heard so much about back in February when both venues were just a tangle of concrete and rebar. Now, under cool blue light lay more frosty bottles of sake than you could shake a samurai sword at. And they look mighty tasty. Even the space-age pod bathrooms (right out of Spaceballs) pale in comparison.
I enter the club next to the DJ pod, helmed by DJ Jackie Christie, to the tune of Bob Sinclar’s “Love Generation,” the theme song to many such nightclub first impressions. The lighting needs work, but the club’s layout is spot-on. “It’s got flow to it,” comments General Manager Brett Rubin, formerly of Opium Group Las Vegas.
By this time, the scales have tipped, and Sugarcane has overtaken the energy of the dining room. What was originally slated and presented to me as an ultralounge has since been re-dubbed a boutique nightclub. Neither the size nor the layout appears to have been affected by the decision, but the density of bodies on the small-but-packed dance floor hints at the result.
Many times throughout the night I will venture out of the protection of yet another booth to stretch my legs; the stroll from the elevated VIP stage over to the bar, down to the dance floor and back again can take all of two minutes or as much as an hour, depending on whom you meet along the way. I meet half-dressed go-go dancers, but then I’m sneakily poking my head into the VIP room, which they have commandeered as their tutu-changing headquarters for the night. The room, inspired by Brazilian favelas (or shantytowns), is awash in haphazard paint, the display cases filled with knickknacks and reliquary, the leather sofas pieced together from remnant fabric. It’s tragic, pretty and provocative—like a beautiful woman who’s stayed too long at the bar.
Not wanting to be such a woman, I move on around 3 a.m. But not before watching the South American babe squad do a little Carnaval-style number on the tiny performance platform and follow that up with a four-way dance-off. The few and loyal who remain beyond then are rewarded with endless house beats and world music, something akin to the Sugarbeats Wednesday industry night set to begin on September 10. How very sweet it is, or will be.